I don’t know much about hurricanes but as an Oklahoman I know all about tornadoes. Hurricanes and tornadoes are swirly, destructive storms caused by unstable atmospheric conditions, and so I can extrapolate how a hurricane might be like family. I have one of those, too! And thus, I understand the Westfall family’s dysfunction in Kris D’Agostino’s The Antiques.
The Westfalls seem inconvenienced but mostly unbothered by the hurricane acting as the backdrop for this moment in their story. The weather is as normalized as the stormy interactions between family members. The book begins as the Westfall children are notified that their father nears death and so, despite an impending hurricane, they leave their personal miseries at their “adult” homes to go back to their childhood home.
As the story unfolds, the individual and collective dysfunction of the family reveals how grief affects people, amplifying emotions, disorienting mindsets, and shifting the line on acceptable behavior. Like, WTF are the brothers thinking when they take their nephew on an outing and wind up breaking into a store? Does that fit their character profiles? Is it a family norm? Maybe that’s an upstate New York thing. Or maybe it’s one of those crazy things people do when grieving.
Oh, spoiler, the patriarch, George Westfall, does die. And… what to do with Dad anyway? Give him the funeral he wants or give him the As I Lay Dying treatment where the family ignores the desires of the deceased and does whatever the Sam Hell they want? Also, should they turn to religion for ritual reasons or is it a spiritual thing? Perhaps it’s ritual until a spiritual need arises. The matriarch oversees this realm. Ana Westfall is the Little Red Hen of The Antiques.
When George lives, Ana is irritated by George and his children feel cheated out of some measure of love and approval. Of course in death, George becomes a wonderful husband and father, except when he’s not, but mostly he enjoys the privilege of the dead. So there they all are, under a hurricane warning, and their family business literally and figuratively under water thanks to a foundational crack. Oh, yeah, they have to sell a Magritte painting, which has become an icon of their imagination in the various ways it elevates their view of the family. Honestly, the reader wouldn’t expect much of these people IRL. Sometimes life sucks and all you can do about it is snipe at your siblings.
The Westfalls may present an outmoded family structure for most North Americans. When starlet Melody Montrose crashes the memorial, she provides a lovely source of light. She is so comfortable among the Westfalls that she may as well be family. Her willingness to put up with sex-addicted techie, Josef, stalker and furniture maker, Armie, and flustered mother and publicist, Charlie, helps the reader to put up with them as well. Wild Hollywood stars are known for making everything better.
I do not like the characters–pretty much ever. Their transformative arcs are so minuscule that I wonder if they can even be counted as such. But by the end of the book, I accept them, and their minute inner journeys, as family.
I feel better knowing that, while hurricanes linger, tornadoes come and go. Let’s hope for the Westfalls, the storm won’t last too long.
While listening to voice actor Amy McFadden, I heard Samantha Bee, which seems appropriate as The Antiques is a comedic novel. Dark comedy? Dramady? In any event, the comedic delivery is helpful because otherwise the book could be too dark. I didn’t pick up the French and Greek accents straight away and maybe never fully appreciated them. I also felt like the voicing for Ana made her less sympathetic than she would be based on text alone. Even so, I listen to a crapton of audiobooks and like McFadden’s voicing better than most. It’s nice to have someone who can convey emotion and still enunciate.